When it comes to scary mommies, Joan Crawford has absolutely nothing on Georgeann Rea. Chanel Bonfire is the memoir of spirited and resilient Wendy Lawless, daughter of a narcissistic, boozy, pill-popping mother, Georgeann Rea. She terrorizes and emotionally abuses her children throughout their formative years until they finally decide to stop taking care of her, move forward, and live their own lives. There are probably about ten different disorders you could use to describe Georgeann Rea, all coming from the DSM-IV. Wendy Lawless manages to retell these unbelievable childhood stories with a bent of humor, sarcasm and wit.
Chanel Bonfire begins in a Midwest setting with Georgeann hungry for a more dramatic and glamorous life. This desire has her running into the arms of the local theaters’ traveling director. Georgeann leaves her husband, the father of her two daughters, Wendy and Robin, and heads to New York to settle into The Dakota, one of the city’s most prestigious apartment buildings. This is the life she has always dreamed about. This is the life she was meant to live. Along with her two daughters, Georgeann travels the world for twelve odd years – living in lavish hotels and homes in London and Paris. While Georgeann’s second marriage eventually crumbles, she still manages to maintain financial dependence. Lovers, apartments, and money come and go for Georgeann and the girls, but what can always be relied on is Georgeann’s narcissitic sociopathic disorder.
Along the way, we experience Georgeann’s psychotic tirades, overdoses on prescription pills, and things like ‘opposite Christmas,’ where the girls are forced to give all of their toys away. Georgeann is always punishing her children – including setting Robin’s room on fire and hitting on boys that they bring home. What’s shocking is that from the outside, Georgeann is the ultimate charmer and always looks the part – hair coiffed, clothes perfectly pressed, makeup flawless. Despite the emotional abuse the daughters endured, this is not a difficult book to read. Wendy Lawless writes with such a sense of humor, strength, and wit that I just couldn’t put the book down.
While I’ve read about several scary mommies, Georgeann Rea is truly one of the most terrifying. Wendy Lawless’ life should be closely examined to determine exactly what resilience is and why some people crumble in the face of tragedy and hardship, while others, like Wendy, persevere despite such harrowing and abusive circumstances.
I read this book in one sitting and was so affected by the story that I went right to Google to track down any photos or videos of dear Georgeann, the many husbands she had, and the courageous Wendy Lawless. I found that the book had reviews in some of the biggest publications – O magazine, People magazine, and Redbook. I can’t believe I missed this book when it was first published! I really wanted to know whether Wendy really recovered. To my delight, I discovered that she is indeed thriving, continuing to do signings and appearances for the book. She also does Skype Q&A sessions for any book clubs reading her book. Now, that would be a book club where everyone reads the book and nobody misses the meeting!
In her stunning memoir, Wendy Lawless tells the often heartbreaking tale of her unconventional upbringing with an unstable alcoholic and suicidal mother—a real-life Holly Golightly turned Mommie Dearest—and the uncommon sense of resilience that allowed her to rise above it all.